“I made my love life my inspiration for finishing my PhD.”

The young man vowed that he will not propose to his girlfriend until he earns his doctorate degree.

The gods were on his side. Years after, the girlfriend is now the wife of Dr. Michael Lochinvar S. Abundo, director of Singapore-based OceanPixel Pte. Ltd. which is engaged in the development of ocean renewable energy in Southeast Asia.

But no, it was not as simple as the gods being on his side. It wasn’t even a walk in the park; instead, the ride toward his doctorate degree had been rough. Yet, he persevered and went on till he reached the finish line.

This challenging journey was narrated by Abundo and three other Filipino graduate degree holders to a roomful of Department of Science and Technology (DOST) scholars during a forum at the IRTC Conference Hall of the Technological University of the Philippines (TUP) in Manila on July 26, 2016. The forum, titled “Beyond Baccalaureate: Stepping Up to Graduate Studies”, was organized by DOST’s Science Education Institute (SEI) as part of the activities for the 2016 National Science and Technology Week.

The objective was to encourage the audience – made up of scholars from various universities – to take up advanced studies, not just for higher salaries and promotions, but also for the advancement of science and technology in the Philippines.

Bumpy ride toward PhD
“Graduate school was a day-to-day challenge,” said physicist and remote sensing specialist Dr. Gay Jane Perez who is involved in the historic Diwata-1 program of DOST’s Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development.

She revealed that she experienced dead ends and eventually, she grew tired.  “These things happen also so it’s not always exciting,” she added. Then her mentor came to her rescue. “Just go on,” her mentor told her, “your PhD will be your all-access ticket” to a bright, successful career.

Her all-access ticket she got alright.  She got admitted to NASA with the help of a Filipino scientist working there who was willing to host a fellow.  At NASA, the simple girl from Bicol who dreamt of becoming a disc jockey and whose parents ran a sari-sari store and bakery was now rubbing elbows with astronauts. At her mere mention of NASA during her talk at TUP, her youthful audience applauded lustily.

“The hardest part about graduate study is finding answers to a question that is not there yet,” claimed Dr. Mark John Paul R. Capistrano of SEI’s science and technology manpower education, research and promotions division.  “Make sure you have a problem that you want to solve [when you enter graduate school],” he added.

Advising his audience to engage in other activities outside school like sports, Dr. Capistrano suggested that while they are jogging or running the marathon, they should likewise be thinking and identifying which problem they want to solve.

For Dr. Abundo, who is also a research fellow at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, the formula for a successful stint in graduate school consists of three Ps: Passion, Perseverance, and Principle.

“Sometimes what you need is your old-fashioned perseverance to pursue an idea,” he said. The solution to a problem does not have to be high-tech. Instead, it can be a low-tech tool but nevertheless still solves the problem and makes an impact, he explained.

“You cannot have passion without grit or perseverance,” he added. “Plus, you should have the passion and perseverance for something that is good.” 

A job opportunity is an opportunity to serve
Meanwhile, Dr. Jumela F. Sarmiento , director of Ateneo de Manila University’s office of admission and aid, enumerated the specific benefits of going into graduate school. She said that graduate school provides students with opportunities for networking and collaboration since they get to meet professionals from other fields of specialization, travel opportunities as some graduate programs  require overseas travel for conferences and research, and  better employment opportunities.

“Earning a graduate degree shows persistence, determination, intellect, an ability to handle challenging situation,” said Dr. Sarmiento, “These are pre-requisites that are sought after in high-level positions.”

In her message at the start of the forum, SEI Director Dr. Josette T. Biyo told the audience that SEI aims to increase its number of scholars in order to widen the pool of Filipino scientists, engineers, and technopreneurs who will work in industry, health, academe, and others, ultimately uplifting the life of their fellow Filipinos.

As Dr. Capistrano philosophized, “Success is determined by the number of people whom you have helped succeed. “

“The problems to be solved are right here,” Dr. Perez said, “so why go somewhere else?”  

After her experience as a postdoctoral fellow at NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center, Dr. Perez is back in the country. She is now an associate professor at UP-Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology. According to her, doing science in the Philippines is relevant because it has various applications. Among these are agriculture, environment, meteorology, disaster management, national security navigation, communications, and others.  Working in science in the country is also multi-disciplinary, collaborative, sustainable, and creates a high level of impact, Dr. Perez elaborated.

Don’t stop wondering
Have you ever wondered which line of customers at a fastfood restaurant will go faster?

Dr. Abundo posed this question to the students. To answer this question, he said, one has to consider several factors, like age.

Nevertheless, he reminded them to “never lose your sense of wonder at things.”

Earlier, Ma. Daisy A. Demoni of SEI presented the various scholarship programs offered by the Institute, including its graduate scholarships (

If there were youngsters in the audience who were wondering what their future holds for them or if they will ever fulfill their dreams, an afternoon filled with success stories of young adults working in S&T has hopefully helped to debunk their doubts.

Hopefully too, they will no longer wonder about their future; instead, they will continue to challenge themselves and wonder which line of customers will go faster inside the fastfood outlet.

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The audience at “Beyond Baccalaureate: Stepping Up to Graduate Studies” forum was composed of DOST scholars and teachers from  different universities.

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Encouraging words from (from top) Dr. Michael Lochinvar S. Abundo, director of OceanPixel Pte. Ltd., Singapore; Dr. Gay Jane Perez, physicist and remote sensing specialist; Dr. Mark John Paul R. Capistrano of SEI’s science and technology manpower education, research and promotions division; and Dr. Jumela F. Sarmiento , director of Ateneo de Manila University’s office of admission and aid.  (Photos by Gerardo C. de Jesus, S&T Media Service, DOST-STII)

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